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Debate Persists Over Nuking Oil Well

(Jul. 2) -A drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico last week burns off material collected from the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Analysts have continued to discuss the possibility of detonating a nuclear device to seal the underwater oil leak (Chris Graythen/Getty Images). (Jul. 2) -A drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico last week burns off material collected from the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Analysts have continued to discuss the possibility of detonating a nuclear device to seal the underwater oil leak (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Following numerous failed attempts to seal off the BP drill site gushing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, debate has persisted over the possibility of closing the leak with a nuclear explosion, Reuters reported today (see GSN, June 3).

Although the Obama administration and BP representatives have repeatedly ruled out an attempt to close the oil well with a nuclear or conventional detonation, some experts have continued to advocate an atomic option as the answer to the continuing disaster.

Viktor Mikhailov, a former high-level Russian nuclear energy official and experienced physicist, urged U.S. and oil industry leaders to consider "a nuclear explosion over the leak."

"I don't know what BP is waiting for, they are wasting their time. Only about 10 kilotons of nuclear explosion capacity and the problem is solved," said Mikhailov, who now heads Russia's Institute of Strategic Stability.

"This option is worth the money," he said, suggesting a detonation over the leak would cost $10 million, a small fraction of the $2.35 billion shelled out by BP to date in addressing the oil spill.

Matthew Simmons, who advised former President George W. Bush on energy issues, is among the others who have advocated nuclear force to close the well.

"Americans just don't know enough about nuclear explosions to solve this problem," Mikhailov said. "But they should ask us -- we have institutes, we have professionals who can help them solve this. Otherwise BP are just torturing the people and themselves."

The Soviet Union in 1966 conducted the first of five nuclear explosions to seal off gas leaks. The results of the detonations are still subject to debate by experts, who believe that either three or four of the attempts were successful.

"It worked quite well for them," said Milo Nordyke, who in the 1960s and 1970s studied civilian applications of atomic energy in the United States. "There is no reason to think it wouldn't be fine (for the United States)."

Nordyke said the probability that a nuclear explosion of roughly 30 kilotons would seal the BP oil well falls around 80 or 90 percent.

"It has to be considered as only the last resort," he said, but "they ought to be thinking about it."

One specialist with the Russian petroleum firm Rosneft cautioned the United States against using a nuclear device to seal the oil well. "That would bring Chernobyl to America," he said.

"What was praised as a success and a breakthrough by the Soviet Union is in essence a lie," Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace's Moscow branch said of the Soviet nuclear blasts, asserting that some gas leaks re-emerged after the explosions.

"I would recommend that the international community not listen to the Russians. Especially those of them that offer crazy ideas. Russians are keen on offering things, especially insane things," Chuprov said.

The U.S. Energy Department does not intend to use nuclear or conventional explosives to address the matter "due to the obvious risks involved," a spokeswoman said.

The explosion could cause the sea floor to fracture, releasing additional material, said petroleum engineer Andy Radford.

Setting up a nuclear blast could also take 18 months, while BP has pledged to install a relief well by next month (Reuters, July 2).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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